Sanctions & Export Controls: Dutch liability case for gas attacks during Iran-Iraq War, 40 years ago

In the Netherlands, the District Court of The Hague ruled that a Dutch company must pay damages to five Iranian victims of poison gas attacks in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War, almost 40 years ago. At a European level, the European Parliament wants tougher enforcement of European Union (“EU”) sanctions against Russia. In the United Kingdom (“UK”), the competent authorities have been busy publishing guidance on several key export controls and sanctions issues. This, and more, in this newsletter.

1. The Netherlands

  • The Netherlands – Liability cases for mustard gas attacks during Iran-Iraq War, 40 years ago – On 15 November 2023, the District Court of The Hague rendered its judgment in a case concerning the use of chemical weapons (including mustard gas) during the Iraq-Iran War (1980-1988). Five Iranian plaintiffs claimed that they were injured and suffered permanent health damage as a result of Iraqi attacks with mustard gas that was produced with raw materials supplied by Dutch companies Forafina and Otjiaha. The plaintiffs argued that Forafina and Otijaha were therefore liable for the damages of the plaintiffs. The court ruled that Otjiaha and its director are not liable for the damages. The court considered that when Otjiaha supplied thionyl chloride to Iraq, almost 40 years ago now, it was not yet widely known that the Iraqi regime was using mustard gas in the war against Iran. Besides that, thionyl chloride can also be used for peaceful purposes, the court held. The court also weighed in that in 1984 the Dutch government, which encouraged trade with Iraq in the early 1980s, chose not to put thionyl chloride on a list of substances for which an export license was required. This would not happen until years later. However, Forafina did not raise a defence and thus was ordered to pay damages, to be determined in follow-up proceedings for the determination of damages.

  • The Netherlands – Answering of parliamentary questions regarding supply of Israel with military goods – On 23 November 2023, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation and the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs answered parliamentary questions in connection with the news article “The Netherlands continues to supply Israel with F-35 parts despite warning of violation of the laws of war” (#444, #454, #455). The answers referred to an attached advisory note that was part of the decision-making process not to interfere with the operation of General Permit NL009 that deals with the resupply of U.S. F-35 parts  (Nota, 15 November 2023).

2. European Union

  • EU – EU’s 12th sanctions package – On 15 November 2023, the High Representative and the Commission submitted a proposal for the 12th sanctions package against Russia to the Council. The proposal includes sanctions against over 120 individuals and entities. The proposal further includes new import and export bans (supposedly on diamonds, LPG and metals), measures to tighten the oil price cap and actions to counter circumvention of EU sanctions.  The package is now under discussion with the 27 Member States, requiring unanimity to be adopted.

  • EU – EU considers sanctions against Iran over Israel-Hamas war – The EU is also considering additional sanctions against Iran following its support to Hamas. Whether additional sanctions will be imposed however remains to be seen as there is reportedly a wide divide among EU diplomats over the timing and desired effect of such sanctions.

  • EU – EU Parliament passes resolution on the effectiveness of EU sanctions on Russia – On 10 November 2023, the European Parliament has passed a resolution on the effectiveness of the EU sanctions on Russia. Albeit the resolution is a non-binding reflection of the views of the European Parliament, the resolution expressed concern about existing loopholes in the EU’s sanctions regime against Russia, the lack of proper enforcement and attempts to undermine the sanctions. The resolution calls for enhanced EU-level oversight, a mechanism to prevent circumvention, and coordination on enforcing sanctions, including imposing sanctions on major Russian oil companies.

3. United Kingdom

  • UK – Updated version of strategic controls guidance published -On 21 November 2023, the UK Export Control Joint Unit has published an updated version of its guidance on strategic export controls. This updated guidance can be relevant for anyone who exports or transfers in goods, software or technology subject to strategic export controls from the UK.

  • UK – Guidance on ownership and control – On 17 November 2023, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation published guidance on the government approach to government and control in UK sanctions. This guidance is applicable to all sanctions regimes, including the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. Most importantly, this guidance clarifies that the UK Government does not consider that President Putin “controls” all entities in the Russian economy.

  • UK – End-user advisory service guidance – On 16 November 2023, the Export Control Joint Unit released guidance on the end-user advisory service. This service allows exporters to seek advice on whether exports to specific overseas entities require a licence due to concerns related to weapons of mass destruction or military end-use.

4. United States of America

  • US – SAR key term and export control red flags published – On 6 November 2023, the United States (“US”) Bureau of Industry and Security and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network issued a joint notice on a new suspicious activity report (“SAR”) key term. The notice provides a list of red flag indicators of export control evasion to support financial institutions in reporting potential efforts to evade US export controls.


Should you wish to receive more information about one of the topics described in this newsletter, please contact BenninkAmar Advocaten via e-mail at or via telephone at +31203085918. 

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